August 9, 2007
Still Life With Oysters and Lemon
by Mark Doty
Paperback, 80 pages
List Price: $13.00
I first read Mark Doty’s poetic memoir, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, last May, during a class on poetry and the visual arts at my alma mater, the
Doty’s premise is based on the intrinsic ability of objects to carry personal meaning. In one especially notable vignette, Doty remembers the sweet smell of peppermints in his grandmother’s purse. He writes of how the smell of the mints reminds him of the good times he spent with her. He then flashes back to the present reality and the reader realizes that he was reminded of those good times only because he saw the peppermints on his grandmother’s bedside table as he was cleaning out her room after her death.
When the tough emotional reality of the present is too difficult to bear, Doty retreats to the past through memories evoked by objects, such as the peppermints. This personal essay is Doty’s way of coming to terms with the reality of death because, without death, one cannot appreciate life.
Though Doty’s work appears to wallow in the melancholy premise that the past is gone, his theme of immortality through art is uplifting. Ultimately, Doty attempts to convey the message that although worldly objects die, art remains. Still Life with Oyster and Lemon is emotionally wrenching at times, but well worth the read. Doty’s prose style is fluid and beautifully poetic. He is able to transport his readers through time and space and allow them to meditate on the meaning of the world around them with a deeper emotional, artistic awareness.
Review by: Nicole Runningen